Friday marks 50 years since the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, a day that forever changed the nation. As we reflect on that day, we meet a local man who spent his life making sure a similar tragedy never happened again.
Ed Russell now spends some of his time at Bullman's in Bearden learning the self defense practice of Krav Maga, but he spent much of his life protecting others in the Secret Service.
Ed started his career in a much different field. He grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, played football at the University of Georgia and then got into the advertising business. But he switched careers and was living in Richmond, Virginia when a huge opportunity came his way.
"I was in the insurance business for three or four years and then I was recruited into the United States Secret Service," said Ed. "I used to play a lot of club tennis. I was pretty good at it. I've always been athletic and at one point a guy came up to me and said 'Hey, do you like guns?' Yeah sure."
Things moved very quickly. "Can you pass a drug test, a polygraph, a background and that sort of thing," recalled Ed.
And then came intense training, which included three months in treasury school.
"And then you go to a three or four month secret service school where they say, 'Forget what you learned there, we want you to do it this way. These are our weapons. This is how you handle yourself in court. This is how we want you to dress and speak," said Ed. "We do real life training. We brought in Hollywood and did pyrotechnics and explosions and blood squibs and all sorts of things so if it really happens we don't go into shock because we've never seen something like this."
In a year, Ed became the ultimate protector, a man who would give up his life for the person he was assigned to protect.
"I think it takes a dedication and a selflessness," said Ed. "You don't walk around thinking it's a pretty day the president's going to be okay. You walk around thinking it's a pretty day, I wonder if somebody could see us from half a mile away with a sniper rifle."
Ed worked in the Secret Service for 21 years.
"I was with Ronnie Reagan Jr. with the Joffrey Ballet in New York when President Reagan was shot in 1981. Later that year, I was transferred to Washington from New York from the World Trade Center where I spent five years with him," said Ed.
He remembers President Reagan fondly.
"I saw him in incredibly intimate and personal and whatever circumstances so I came to respect him a lot. President Reagan's persona was exactly as he appeared to be," said Ed.
Ed served under five presidents.
"Ford, Carter, First Bush, Reagan and then I left during the Clinton administration," said Ed.
He guarded visiting heads of state, he cracked counterfeit cases and lead a counter terrorism unit all during his tenure. And one moment in history always stayed top of mind for Ed, the assassination of John F. Kennedy.
"That was a seminal event in my life. I was a sophomore in high school. It was a Friday afternoon," said Ed.
That awful day served as a somber reminder of how important Ed's job was. He was a successful agent.
"It was time for me to go. I had done everything I wanted to do. I had done it and done it pretty well, hadn't been burned, hadn't been hurt, hadn't shot anybody, hadn't been shot," said Ed.
He moved from New York City here to Knoxville with his wife Penny, an East Tennessee native, who he met on the job protecting Second Lady Marilyn Quayle.
"Mrs. Quayle wrote a novel, great book and Penny was her publicist and so we met that way," said Ed. "Penny was Marilyn's publicist and I was Marilyn's chief bodyguard if you will and we met and fell in love."
The two now live a relatively quiet life.
"I take care of the yard and I do the grocery shopping," said Ed. He also mixes in some security consulting jobs. "Fox News hired me last year to work the two conventions, help watch over their anchors and I'm going to do the Super Bowl coming up in February. Happily it's not near as dangerous as what I used to do and it pays better."
But not far from Ed's mind is his action-packed past.
"There was a movie called Casino that was all about this, but in real life I was there when they blew this guy up."
Ed Russell, a man who lived has his life putting other people's lives before his own with little recognition.
"I think it's an honorable profession. I mean, I really do. You're there because democracy demands it," he said.
One of Your Stories. There's no place like this one.
Ed also spent 10 years heading up team security for the Cleveland Browns.